Last gasps for a dying medium: as the printed newspaper’s future looks increasingly precarious, some noble — but not necessarily game-changing — attempts are being made to revisit its former glory. This summer two different projects have ambitions to resurrect the long suffering funny pages, i.e., newspaper comic strips printed in a broadsheet (or broadsheet-esque) format. Even as newspapers seem to be continually shrinking, whether in page count or in the actual dimension of their pages, these comics are making efforts to look big.
A project called The Big Funny aims to bring together comic strips and ideas from all over the world in a massive 48-page funnies section. Premiering next week in Minneapolis, the team behind The Big Funny hopes to upend the formula that determines the comics you see in contemporary newspapers: “Today’s small strips, with mostly predictable, safe themes and bland characters are a pale shadow of what newspaper comics were in their wild and colorful youth… [We are] collaborating to produce an oversized newspaper comics section like they would do it today if they still did it like they did it in the old days.” A decidedly independent-minded project from The International Cartoonist Conspiracy, The Big Funny features literally dozens of comics talents, some of them quite good, but most of whom you’ve probably never heard of unless you’re already steeped in this world.
Hump Day Hilarity
Over at the comic book mega-publisher DC Comics, similar ideas are driving their Wednesday Comics series, albeit with slightly more commercial potential. Wednesday Comics too is a full-size comics section, this one featuring some of the publisher’s marquee franchises (Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, etc.) and, starting earlier this month, printed in vibrant full color once a week. Though slimmer than The Big Funny at just sixteen pages, having gotten my hands on the first two issues I can say that they’re sixteen excellent pages, produced by some of the better comics talent out there. Like its rival in mainstream comics Marvel, DC Comics has no shortage of mediocre draughtsmen at its disposal — and they rarely hesitate to use them. Apparently none of them were invited to join this project, though. These pages are gorgeous.
Right: Dave Gibbons and Ryan Sook’s stunning second installment of “Kamandi” recalls the lost, large-scale craftsmanship once celebrated every week in strips like Hal Foster’s “Prince Valiant.”
Big Comics, Big Money
In keeping with funny pages tradition, Wednesday Comics ships as a free insert to the mid-week edition of USA Today, though I don’t know anyone who reads that paper unless they’re staying at a Holiday Inn. More to the point, both it and The Big Funny are available for sale on their own, which highlights another major difference between the halcyon age these projects echo and today’s grimmer economic reality: Wednesday Comics costs US$3.99 an issue and the first and so far only issue of The Big Funny costs US$5 — US$10.95 postage paid if you can’t make it to Minneapolis for its debut. Ouch. Seems less funny now, somehow.